Part love story, part journey of discovery and part comedy of manners, Sue Eckstein’s captivating novel explores a disparate group of expatriates in West Africa and their complicated ties to the country, its people and to each other.
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When new diplomat Daniel Maddison arrives in Bakinabe nothing is quite as it seems or what he imagined it would be. Isabel Redmond is tiring of her husband’s fascination with black women’s breasts; the High Commissioner and his wife, Fenella, are both enjoying illicit affairs; an old English judge is wandering through the scrub following a tribe of Fulani herdsmen; Bob Newpin is about to make a killing in timeshares; and just what Father Seamus is up to is anyone’s guess.
Searching for something beyond the cocktail parties, golf and gossip, Daniel finds himself drawn to people and places outside the experience of his High Commission colleagues – and specifically to a dusty warehouse in the heart of the city where a thin blonde woman is silently measuring out lengths of brightly coloured cloth.
Funny, lyrical and ultimately redemptive, Sue Eckstein’s assured debut about passion, loneliness and being an outsider has a deliciously intricate plot, compelling characters and razor-sharp dialogue.
Sue Eckstein is also the author of Interpreters.
Barbara Myers, BBC Radio presenter
From the 'rather splendid black breasts' of the opening sentence, via an extraordinary but wholly credible ex-pat community, with their complicated ties to West Africa and each other, to the emotionally satisfying dénouement, this is well written, well observed and well-nigh impossible to put down.
Lesley McDowell, Independent
The undercurrent of the 'love that dare not speak its name' flows through this tale, giving it a special urgency, as two men from different generations, the younger Daniel and the older Stan, struggle with their desires.View source
The Cloths of Heaven is a definite winner... there is pure delight in the drawing of the characters and in their interaction... They are all larger than life and all fit together perfectly in a strange mosaic. The Gambia (sorry, an anonymous West African country…) is a star of the book. From the steamy and oppressive heat to the descriptions of the tourists who fly in for a cheap two weeks on a beach – and return home with the obligatory carved elephant (an animal, of course, never seen in this part of Africa).View source
A wonderful story... The picture of the diplomatic life is spot-on... The setting is a fictional part of West Africa but it's so well realised that you feel as though you've been there. It's a multi-stranded story with all the different threads skilfully woven together. I would happily have read a great deal more. Splendid stuff.View source
Britain-Nigeria Educational Trust
Marvellous on several levels... as good a page-turner as a thriller, with the lingering and satisfying afterglow of the best literary novels. When you’ve bought one copy and read it, you will probably find yourself buying more as gifts for friends.
The Cloths of Heaven is a treasure. The scented evenings, heavily weighted with West African heat, seemed to rise from the pages as I read. The characters are unexpectedly real. At times I felt an inkling of what it must feel like to be a stalker; that urge to vicariously experience more of another's life, the reluctance to be parted from them. I felt a slight sense of grief as the novel ended simply because it finished so perfectly and, I wanted to spend more time in their world.View source
'I couldn’t put this novel down... a fluid, careful writer... Eckstein’s book will contribute to an important body of fiction written about the continuing relationship between African and European countries. Her background with VSO and now her work in medical ethics ensures that her perspective is informed, intelligent and demanding. This incisive intellect also delivers some fascinating, complex characters who won't necessarily behave the way you expect.'
Thoughts from Botswana
When you sit down to read The Cloths of Heaven you should know that you are entering a spider's web; a spider's web of connections between a vast cast of characters. Eckstein brings the characters to the reader in tiny drips; a scene here, a thought, a bit of dialogue. She is expert at adding layers to give depth... A delightful book, likely you’ll read it in one sitting [as] it's quite difficult to put down once you're pulled in.View source
A fantastically well-executed novel... the book is a joy to read. It is intriguing, exciting and just beautifully written.View source
The Cloths of Heaven is a wry, dust-dry character-observation-rich gem of a book with one of the most refreshing comic voices I’ve read for a long while. There are aspects of this book that I (and I don’t use this word often) adored. The playful tone. The wry observations. The brilliant comic dialogue. And a cracking ending – both satisfying and surprising. This book is a bright, witty companion – values and attitudes in the right place – acute, observant but also tolerant and understanding and not afraid of a sharp jibe or two. If this book was a person, I’d definitely invite it round to dinner. In fact, I might even take it down the pub.View source
A fascinating novel – rich in dialogue with finely and sensitively drawn characters. If you like Armistead Maupin, Graham Greene or Barbara Trapido, you'll love this.
Steamy climate and steamy sex in this debut novel set in 1990’s West Africa. The cast of old Empire left-overs, native Africans and people newly drawn to the vibrancy of Africa jostle and compete in this tightly plotted novel that veers between comedy and tragedy.View source